Alice Springs - A surprise in the Outback

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December 15th 2015
Published: December 15th 2015
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I’ll be honest and say that completing my blog in a timely fashion since arriving in Australia has not exactly been done in a timely fashion.

The travel up to Alice Springs involved a luxury camper van for Aus $5 a day with 4 other people sharing the costs. Two welsh guys who were a little crazy along with one Czech and one Finish female.Although we had to be there from Adelaide by 4 days, we made a decision that we would drive as much as we could and as long as we could and stop off at interesting places. First night was just outside Port Augusta which I had been there before, I was able to show people where the supermarket was and to stock up on food, provisions and alcohol for the journey ahead and then find a free camp site for the night. For the second time in Australia, the dreaded sand flies attacked me in their droves and I was covered the next morning with bites and they would not stop itching and swelling. However it was a night for everyone to get to know each other and it seemed that we had a group of characters that would never put together from the outgoing, to shy to intelligent person, we were all different but had the next few days in each other pocket.

The next day was the long drive to get to Coober Pedy, a major outback town that was about 7 hours drive, we made it, with various pit stops on the way, as the sun went down. Next day was about exploring this strange town that had made its population and early wealth from the Opal mining which was still carrying on today. However it was an outback town, so no high rise buildings. Instead there was several under ground houses and churches, with a lot of modern buildings. What the earlier settlers had released was that if they dug into the side of a rock face far enough into it, then they could make a house inside and then the inside would be cooled down from the coolness of the rock itself. They built a whole town like this and a lot of the early houses are still lived in. We went into a local church and from the outside sun beating down we walked into the church and realised that it was a hell of a lot cooler. So the early people knew what they were doing!

From arriving into the town, there was a strong presence of aborigines who seemed to just mill around and stare at the strangers in the town. It felt uncomfortable and I’m not sure if its the safest place to live in, especially when a local in Port Augusta overheard us saying where we were going and stated that if we were going to Coober Pedy, LOCK YOUR DOORS!

Time was against us as we had planned to get to Ayers Rock before the end of the day, but after spending too long in the town and setting off later then we expected, we had to settle on staying the night by a turn off from the main road that lead to Uluru. The bug bites still covered my arms and legs and were still driving me crazy, but we settled in for the night and set off after a lie in! Our first shock was the distance to get to Uluru and then there was the price to enter Aus $25 each to enter the National Park, which one or 2 of the gang grumbled about. Mainly because as back packers we all had budgets, but as I explained to them, this was one of the natural wonders of the modern world and that it was THE symbol of Australia even though most Australians had never been there. I will say that the drive up and seeing it from a distance was awesome and has it got bigger, I started to realise that it was just a lump of red rock in the middle of nowhere. I’m not trying to sound like I wasn’t impressed but there are so many similar sized rock features around the Outback, just this was more red and was more revered by the Aboriginals because of the fact it had water holes by it.

Uluru is situated on a National Park which gives a reason for the locals to charge $25 per person, which a couple of people in the camper van complained about and nearly asked for us to turn around but with a bit of persuasion we traveled up to the base. The information centre explained why Uluru was so important. It is classed as a sacred area and different parts of the rock has a story to it in why it was shaped in the particular style it was. Obviously its come down from generation to generation with some parts directed for the males and some parts for the females only, this area in particular there is no pictures to be taken. To me it was just bits of rock that had eroded over the centuries but the story seemed to be about snakes, fights, betrayal and lots of stuff. Some stories of Uluru are not even known outside the Aboriginal tribes as they are so sacred, but still a bit of make believe in my eyes although fascinating.

The Rock itself is MASSIVE and can take up to 3/4 hours to walk around it, we only made an hour around before heading back to the van, due to 40 degree heat and the amount of flies that just wouldn’t give up trying to land on any part of my skin. It was only on the drive away from Ayers Rock that we saw a viewing point where I assumed that most of the famous photos have been taken, which was perfect for a selfie and a group picture.

It was at this point when I felt drained and tired so gave one of the welsh guys a chance to take over the drive, explaining that the fuel tank was over half way full and therefore should make it to the garage to refuel the van before heading off to the last camp site for the trip. Unfortunately due to a lack of good driving skills, we ran out 11 km away from the garage and the 2 guys immediately volunteered to head off on foot and get some diesel, leaving me with the 2 girls on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. A few trucks stopped coming the opposite way to us, offering advice which was as helpful as no advice. I did stop a car coming towards us which I flagged down and inside was a family of aboriginals. I explained that 2 blokes were heading for the garage and if it was possible, if they would stop off and help them to the garage, of which they said yes. From day 1 of arriving in Australia I have had heard nothing but bad things from locals saying never trust an Aboriginal so wasn’t too sure if I had done the right thing or not. Twenty minutes later a car came from the opposite direction and by this time it was dark. It stopped a fair way from us and slowly came forward and with the headlights on, it was difficult to see who was driving. A window was opened and a female dutch voice shouted if we were okay and if we needed help, I shouted back that our friends are at the garage and should be back soon with fuel to get us on our way. At which the doors open and there they were, their idea to spook us. It sort of worked but hey I would have looked after us. The guys explained that the Aboriginals had indeed stopped and gave them a lift to the garage and even waited on them to return to them back, which surprised me. However they had bumped into 2 Dutch girls who had volunteered to bring them back and in return the guys would cook them a meal in our camper van as their cooker had broken down.

After refuelling the van and getting on our way to get a major influx of fuel from the garage, the boys wanted to fulfil their promise even though it was 9 at night, we were 4 hours drive away from Alice Springs and we still hadn’t eaten ourselves. Once the Dutch girls had been duly fed, I rushed everyone back onboard and made the decision to drive at night even though it was dangerous to do so, due to kangaroos coming out of nowhere and hitting trucks.I had to have the van back in the depot for 8 in the morning and there was no way I was getting up at 4 am to drive in. So an hour down the road I found somewhere to park for the night, grabbed some food and slept, leaving the rest of the group do their own thing.

Dropping off the campervan and getting away with the ‘damage’ which a little white lie told them it was done by the previous driver, it was time to get into a hostel and explore. Alice Springs in right in the centre of Australia and is surrounded by desert. Visions of tin huts and old timers with long beards came to mind, but the town is modern with no sky scrapers, it sort of knows its limits and is happy with itself I think. The centre is not that big and can be walked around in half an hour, but there are the housing estates that extend outwards making the town look bigger. The heat of the place was in the 40’s and was taking a bit of getting used to so air con in the hostel was more favourable after grabbing some shopping from the supermarket and a chilled night in.

Next day the heavens opened and the rain came down, along with the temperature which dropped into the 20’s and it was felt. There were a number of things that sticks out with Alice Springs that I did over the week I was there. One of them was the visit to School of the Air which was the education system given to children who live in the outback in the middle of nowhere and have no access to schools. They are given in their homes a computer and assorted equipment and they log on every morning for their lessons from their homes and have a school day via teachers located in Alice Springs. The actual school is also a museum showing how it has evolved from just radio transmitters to cutting edge technology of today. I had the chance of seeing an actual lesson being broadcast and how the children interact with each other over their monitors but it works and the kids actually get together 3 times a year to meet the teachers and the other kids to improve their social skills. I found it totally fascinating that these kids were being taught by a person from thousand of miles away and their class mates were in a farm that would be hundreds of miles from where they were sat.

I also took whilst in the town, a free walking tour of Alice Springs which I attended with a couple of people from the hostel. The guy taking us around explained the history of the town, which in a nut shell was the half way point between Darwin and Sydney which needed a transmitter station to relay information between the North and South, and from their it got bigger. Then during World War 2, when Darwin was attacked and bombed by the Japanese, troops moved down on the railway to Alice Springs increasing the population. The tourist market is big here with the added bonus of Ayers Rock being down the road.

I did have one night out in town and that was to meet up with one of the girls I had travelled up with. We went to one of the bars that I had been recommended and as it was a Friday night it was packed. We sat at a table with a few locals, one of whom was celebrating her birthday and got talking to them. They all lived and worked in Alice Springs with one of them having never left the town in his 30 years. He admitted that cities scared him and that Alice Springs had everything that he needed and he was an outback person at heart. He asked me about my journey and where I had been, but wasn’t too sure if he was impressed or not, but it sort of opens your eyes to what people want from life and the guy was happy with what he had.

After only 5 days in Alice Springs it was time to leave and I managed to get a last minute relocation camper van to Adelaide with another one to pic up from there to Melbourne. As it was a very last minute vehicle I went straight online to advertise it and try and get someone to come with me, and about half an hour that I was meant to be leaving, someone got in contact with me and I had a passenger. Jimmy was a kiwi who was working in the Australian outback to earn a decent wage but unfortunately the job and the pay were not enough to support him and his family who lived in Perth, so he had quit that day and was after a lift to Adelaide to get a cheap flight back home. So off we went…..


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